Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) in 'The Walking Dead'
Gene Page/AMC Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) in 'The Walking Dead'

For a TV series whose chief antagonist serves as a constant reminder of the creeping inevitability of death, "The Walking Dead" certainly is in a hurry to surprise its audience, at least according to showrunner Glen Mazzara. "One, we hit the ground running, and two, it’s going to surprise people,” Mazzara says of the first five minutes of season three, which premieres on AMC October 14 and had a huge presence at San Diego Comic-Con this year. “The audience is going to have to catch up and figure out actually what it all means. So hopefully that’s mysterious and enough of a tease for you, but I think the audience is going to realize we’re back in a very big way.”

Mazzara says that he feels like the series as a whole has developed a sense of forward movement -- where it’s going needs less to be explained and explored than succumbed to. “I think we’ve hit our stride, and we are running and gunning this season -- I just think that’s what works for us,” he says. “And it’s about taking action in this world, and the characters have come to know each other, and so there’s not a lot of debating about what does this apocalypse mean anymore. It’s more ‘what are we going to do about it?’ That makes our characters very, very active, and they make choices and not all of those choices work out.”

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The Prison

At the end of season two of the zombie apocalypse series, de facto leader Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and a small group of survivors following him discovered an abandoned prison -- a location Mazzara says is perfectly-suited for some dramatic scenarios, especially since he and executive producer Gale Anne Hurd insisted look painstakingly real.

“We wanted to build something that was a gritty and realistic as possible,” Mazzara says. “This is not a sleek, polished, cool prison. It’s scary, and it feels real... it very much fits the gritty aesthetic that fans have come to expect from our show.

“That prison is sort of like a haunted house,” he says, hinting at the narrative possibilities yet to be explored. “There are challenges within that prison where it’s not as necessarily safe as everyone thinks -- let's just say that -- and there’s sacrifice involved in that.”

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The Governor

Earlier this year, David Morrissey (“Basic Instinct 2”) was added to the cast as The Governor, a character whose presence on the show heralds new conflict thanks in no small part to his villainous depiction in the source material. Morrissey says he understands his character’s motivations, even if he doesn’t necessarily agree with them.

“I think that he believes that what he is doing is for a good cause. A couple of people have been asking about him being evil, and you can’t really play that. Certainly I can’t -- I empathize with my character, but I don’t have to agree with him and I don’t particularly have to like him, but I have to empathize with him, to understand what he’s going through.

“But we’ll see – there’s twists and turns to come,” Morrissey continues. “I’m really just loving playing him right now, although I don’t know what that says about me.” Meanwhile, the actor reveals that he's gotten absorbed in "The Walking Dead" comic books -- and not just for character details. “At first I started reading it thinking, ‘this is great research,’ and soon I forgot that and just read it as a great story.”

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Morrissey isn’t the only new addition to the cast. Danai Gurira (“The Visitor”) is set to play Michonne, a steely katana-wielding survivor whose first appearance is as a hooded figure dragging two armless zombies behind her -- her boyfriend and his best friend, remarkably enough. Gurira reveals that it was a thrill to leap into a series where the development of her character was more of a mystery than in her film work.

“My experience has been mainly with film and theater, so I know exactly where the character is going, and I can beat out exactly what these moments are,” she says. “With this, you don’t know what the next episode is going to bring for you. So you’re constantly adjusting and adapting -- it is like life, so there is kind of a thrill to it when the writing is this thrilling, which is the gift of the show.”

Although she observes that there are similarities between herself and her character, Gurira says that she’s focused her efforts on delineating what events transformed Michonne into the tough-as-nails woman that she has become. “I think I fall into the tough-girl genre in my life -- into how she has steeled herself,” Gurira says. “And it’s all about, who would you be in a situation this dire? It’s that question of who would you become, and so there’s an interesting logic about who she becomes based on the world she’s in and the trauma she endures. When you choose not to be a victim in a world this hostile, who do you become? And to me, who she becomes is insanely logical.”